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It’s Not Debatable: The NU Debate Team Is On Fire

Thirteen is normally considered an unlucky number—but for the Northwestern debate team, it's the current number of national titles they've won, more than any other university. However, don't think for a second that they're not striving for even luckier No. 14.

Dan Fitzmier (middle, standing) joins ecstatic debate team members outside their Hardy House headquarters.

Led by NU's new director of forensics and debate coach Dan Fitzmier, the team has been flourishing, and it's easy to see why: Fitzmier earned his doctoral degree in Communication Studies from NU's School of Communication in 2006. Plus, as a graduate student, he served as assistant debate coach under former director of forensics Scott Deatherage—the winningest coach not only at NU, but also in the history of U.S. collegiate debate.

"I've tried to keep the best elements of what preceded me, and tried to build where I could," Fitzmier says. And by the end of the fall quarter, his tactics were paying off.

October started off with a bang. At the University of Kentucky's annual Henry Clay Debates, NU's team of senior John Warden and sophomore Matt Fisher took first place, while Jordan Blumenthal and Ryan Beiermeister were acknowledged as best freshman pair in the country. Over at the Motor City Classic hosted by Detroit's Wayne State University, sophomore Mary Gregg and junior Greg Friend captured the title, while sophomore Jonathan Blough and freshman Jason Zhou reached the quarterfinals. Individually, Friend was crowned top speaker, followed by Gregg in second and Blough in fifth.

Debate team following their win against Kansas at Wake Forest

By Halloween weekend, NU sparks were flying at the highly competitive Harvard Invitational. Warden and Fisher continued their success by reaching the final round, while Stephanie Spies and senior Rob Mulholand advanced to the quarterfinals. A couple of weeks later at the Franklin R. Shirley Classic hosted by Wake Forest University, all three of NU's invited teams advanced to elimination rounds. But it was Warden and Fisher who prevailed, beating the University of Kansas—one of NU's toughest competitors this year—on a 3-0 decision.

"We are proud to have a winning record against such a quality opponent as the team from Kansas," says debate team program coordinator Luke Hill.

Looking back on the fall quarter, Fitzmier agrees: "We have debated our way to the finals of every major national tournament held this season, and our performance to date has earned us the right to be considered as one of the handful of teams that has a legitimate chance to win the National Debate Tournament in late March. We're united in our determination to bring home what would be Northwestern's unprecedented 14th national championship."